One of those posts I make J. edit for tone before I hit publish

Dear Geography Matters,

I have used your materials for years... at least over ten, and possible for even longer. I have loved them, and your geography resources have been mainstays in our homeschool. I guess this is why I feel so very disappointed today.

My children and I have spent the last year and a half going around the world (from the comfort of our dining room table) and learning about many different countries. As well as reading about each country, we've listened to music, read folk tales, done crafts, made food, and done some extensive map work. Your Uncle Josh's Outline Maps have been hugely helpful as we create our travel journals. If there is not an individual country, there has been at least an enlarged region map for where we currently are.

Until today.

This week, we left Asia, and headed to Africa, with our first stop being in Ethiopia. We had done our continent work earlier in the week, and I admit I hadn't looked carefully, but I assumed there would be other maps in addition to the single map of the African continent. It's a big place, after all; it would make sense to have at least a few region maps, and maybe even maps of some of the larger individual countries. You know, as you did with every other continent (except Australia).

When I went looking for the a map of Ethiopia in your book, there were no region maps other than the one of South Africa. I was so surprised that I actually looked two or three times, not really believing that there was exactly one specific map dealing with Africa. Okay, to be fair, there was also a map of Egypt, but it was labeled 'Ancient Egypt', and was clearly meant to be used as part of the cycle of world history so popular with homeschoolers, which has Ancient Greece following hard on its heels. In fact, the map of 'Ancient Greece' was immediately after it. It hardly seems to count if we are talking about African geography.

It left me both depressed and angry, but also filled with questions. Why decide to include one map for all Africa? Do you really think that homeschoolers do not study anything about Africa outside of ancient Egypt? Why does an enormous continent not even rate larger area maps? Do you have any idea what this implies about how you view the continent and the people who inhabit it? Do you think there is nothing of any value there? To include only one map of a continent filled with millions of people and composed of fifty-four countries seems to say that these people and these countries have nothing to contribute to the education of our children.

As an aside, Asia, which has more landmass and more population, but fewer countries, 48. Yet, it rated twelve regional maps. South America, which has twelve countries and a population of 422 million people, rated one specific map of Brazil. Africa, with a population of 1.2 billion and four times as many countries as South America, also rates one specific map?

It all leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. It did lead to a very interesting discussion today as part of our school morning; a discussion that certainly wasn't on our schedule. Racism is never a pleasant topic to discuss, especially when the people at fault are blind (oh, at least I hope it is blindness, and not a conscious decision) to their own biases. Intentions aside, the exclusion of a vast part of Africa suggests an underlying assumption that people with darker skin have no real history, at least not anything of note, and that they have nothing to contribute to current study, either. (You can make the case that South Africa is included, but it is the only country in Africa with a significant white population. It doesn't really balance out.)

Of course, I'm sure you can offer rational explanations. There was no inherent dislike or hatred of African people that caused the omission of the bulk of Africa. There were just so many other countries to include... Why, you might ask, do I need to call out racism when you had no intention of being racist? Am I being too sensitive and seeing racism where there is none?

I get it. I probably would have felt the same way in the past. But that was when I thought I had it all figured out, before I was the parent of children of color. Before I was really friends with people of color. Before I had to see the world with different eyes. Don't you see? The fact that you excluded the vast majority of Africa without a second thought reveals the effects of systemic racism without you even realizing it. I can't decide which is worse: Outright racism, or the kind where the marginalized people are so little thought of as to be non-existent. 

And nothing is going to change until we members of the majority culture, the one where we go about our lives with little to no drama or effort, see that other people experience life in a very different way. We do not have to have conversations with our white teens about what to do when stopped by a police officer when driving. I have had to have this conversation with my Asian son, and that is nothing compared to the kinds of conversations that my friends with African-American children need to have. My white children do not need to explain their presence in our family or our town on a regular basis. They are accepted as belonging. Yet, more often than I can count, my Asian children are asked to make an account of themselves, to explain their presence. Are they foster children? Are they an exchange student? Do we run some type of organization? Where are they from? Do they speak English? It's not just the adoption thing. If we had adopted white children, even if their hair or eye color didn't match the rest of ours, no one would ever think to ask if they were a foster child. We have a very mild version of this compared to others, and it still can be exhausting. No one likes to have to account for their existence.

One of the things my children and I talked about today was being aware when someone is not treated with the same respect that another person is. I told them it was important to stand up and point it out, to stand up for another person because they were equally valuable and important. I said to do my part, I would start by writing to you, the publisher of the map book, because it was wrong to exclude so much of an entire continent that has been home to cities, civilizations, and empires. I do not have any family history that goes back to Africa, nor do any of my children. But I have friends whose families do. I have friends who emigrated from Africa. And even more importantly, when we discount such a large proportion of the earth's people, we all lose. We lose their art, their music, their history, their land. We lose a part of our collective humanity.

God created all of us. God created skin colors. God created different facial features, hair types, eye colors. God sees beauty in it all. We know this because He called His creation good. He called all of His creation good. When we set out to say differently, we put ourselves in place of God. But if we truly believe in the goodness of God's creation, and His love for all people, we must treat every single one of them as having worth and value. The first place we can do that is by realizing that we have been disenfranchising a people group, even if unintentionally. Then, we can ask forgiveness, listen to how we can do better, and then do that.

I hope that a new edition will be available, one that includes the whole world, and not just the parts important to white people.


Tiffany Smith said…
I feel your tone was perfect. An admirable blending of respectful, deliberate and just a wee bit fierce. A small white world hurts us all. Thank you for speaking up so beautifully as it raises the collective consciousness and this, in turn, begins to create a fairer world.
Kelly said…
This is perfect! And studying Mali, Ghana, and Songhai has been part of the social studies curriculum for quite a long time now so they're also behind the times as far as what schools are requiring as well. At minimum they should have a West African Empires map next to Ancient Egypt.

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